Somewhere in the stacks of photo albums and boxes of loose pictures that fill my life there is a photo of me at probably about four years old. I’m wearing a red shirt with sailboats, blue pants, and I suspect my saddle shoes though I don’t think they were visible in the picture. My hair is a mess, but that’s been true since I was two and it started to appear on my head. My head is tilted back and arm outstretched, reaching up to embrace my Dad who’s smiling down at me as I’m sitting on his lap at the kitchen table.
I found myself thinking about that photo again last night after talking with my sister JoAnn. She’d called to see if I’d talked with Dad lately.
Dad was probably about 47 in that picture, my age now. He was living a full life. He worked hard between his job at the power plant, farming, selling seed corn, raising a family, and just trying to live the life his beliefs told him was right and good. He also had a lot to smile about good friends, good family, a good life all in all.
He still has a lot of those things at 90. Some of the family is gone, but we’ve added a lot more too. Many of his friends have passed on, but some are still here and some of the children of others remain and still care about him. He is a lucky one to be surrounded by caring people.
So, why thinking about the photo? Well, JoAnn called to ask how Dad was doing when I talked with him. We’ve been lucky for a long time. Too many people these days watch their parents slip away into other worlds of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Until recent years, Dad was both mentally and physically doing really well. It’s probably only been in this past year that he’s begun his journey to saying goodbye.
Physically, he’s doing well for 90. He uses a walker, but hey he’s walking. I can only hope for that at his age. But memory is getting hard. It’s tough to recognize the time of the day or night sometimes he needs a reminder about coming to meals. He still loves to visit and play cards. It takes a little while to get back into the game and remember the things that once came almost naturally like shuffling.
It’s little things here and there. He has a great home with wonderful staff who watch over him, family, and friends who visit almost daily, and my sisters and their families who take care of his needs from day to day. I guess it does take a village.
Still, I think about that picture and ask myself, how will we say goodbye? With the mental declines of aging it could be days or years, but it is a process of goodbyes that we have begun. I suppose all I have is how Dad and I end each phone call with I love you and blowing each other kisses. He hasn’t forgotten that yet.